January 1, 1490 - 
Renaissance Architecture

By Skylar Kagan

Renaissance architecture was a shift from the medieval and gothic styles to a revival of classic architecture from ancient Greek and Rome. The architecture reflected the age of rebirth and enlightenment because of its incorporation of light, spaciousness, and symmetry. Architects were focused on symmetry, geometry, and mostly proportion, reviving the styles expressed in classical architecture. Architects would study the ruins from ancient Italy, France, and Spain to develop styles they would use. The style of architecture changed slightly throughout the phases of the Renaissance, however it remained based on the style of their predecessors. Some of the most commonly adapted features in Renaissance architecture were the column, the rounded arch, the tunnel vault, and the dome.

Roman columns were incorporated into the façade of many buildings, sometimes solely for decorative purposes. There were altered versions of the original roman styles; Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite that inspired architects during the entirety of the Renaissance. During the Early Renaissance (15th Century), Corinthian was a more common style but later on during the High Renaissance (16th Century) the Composite style was preferred. Filippo Brunelleschi was one of the first architects to incorporate columns for support in his work.

Architects were hired and funded by wealthy families and individuals who also aspired to see the architectural revival.  Brunelleschi was commissioned by the Medici family to design and complete a

dome for the Florence Cathedral in Italy. He travelled to Rome to study classical Roman buildings to develop techniques in order to complete the dome. He accomplished his task and created the world’s largest (at the time) and self-supporting dome since ancient times. One of his most notable achievements was linear perspective which created a three-dimensional illusion on a flat surface. This revolutionary technique was then adapted by all renaissance artists to follow. Brunelleschi (who was trained as a sculptor) is known as the first major renaissance architect whose success with the Florence dome inspired many other architects to use this revived and efficient method.


Another commonly known Early Renaissance architect was Leon Battista Alberti who published De Re Aedificatoria; ten books covering all aspects of renaissance architecture that were considered the “bible

of renaissance architecture.” One of Alberti’s most famous architectural work was the façade on the church Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Romanesque-antique styled arches and capitals made the façade shift from the Gothic style to a more classical one. The upper story exemplifies the use of geometry in renaissance architecture. There is a large pediment (a triangular feature seen in classical architecture) mounted on pilasters decorated into square shapes with the old circular window in the center. The intricate façade demonstrates perfect harmony, proportion and geometry that was emphasized during the renaissance.


Donato Bramante pioneered High Renaissance architecture by emphasizing clarity and harmony.

Bramante designed Tempietto at San Pietro which is a small temple built on the spot of Saint Peter’s crucifixion in Rome. The temple has been described by critics as more sculpture than building which was based around radial symmetry. It consisted of a circular peristyle, Doric columns, and a centralized dome that were unified and harmonious. This inspired Bramante’s design for St. Peters Basilica in Rome commissioned by Pope Julius II. Bramante initially had designed for it to have a central plan in the shape of a Greek cross. Many churches throughout the world have been inspired by classical architecture and have the same floor plan. The dome was influenced greatly by the Pantheon in Greece but planned to be taller and fit the renaissance aesthetic. Bramante, however, died before the completion of the Basilica and the successors of the project altered a few elements. Bramante is best known for introducing the style of architecture during the High Renaissance that emphasized unity and proportion of his structures.


Within Renaissance architecture the common theme of proportion and unity appeared throughout the entirety of the era. Architects were inspired by classical architecture and recreate lost forms of art which resulted in the creation of many gorgeous and aspiring buildings that are still standing today.